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Large-scale biodiversity loss, human rights violations, and other direct and macro-effects of agro-fuels [#111]
* Large-scale, export-oriented production of biofuel requires large-scale monocultures of trees, sugarcane, corn, oilpalm, soy and other crops. These monocultures already form the number one cause of rural depopulation and deforestation worldwide. The rapidly increasing demand for these crops as a source of biofuel will lead to:
• increased land competition leading to further land concentration, the marginalization of small-scale agriculture and the widespread conversion of forests and other ecosystems;
• arable land that is currently used to grow food being used to grow fuel, leading to staggering food prices and causing hunger, malnutrition and impoverishment amongst the poorest sectors of society;
• rural unemployment and depopulation;
• the destruction of the traditions, cultures, languages and spiritual values of Indigenous Peoples and rural communities;
• the extensive use of agro-chemicals, which deteriorate human health and ecosystems
• the destruction of watersheds and the pollution of rivers, lakes and streams;
• droughts and other local and regional climatic extremes; and
• the extensive use of genetically modified organisms leading to unprecedented risks.
These effects will have particularly a negative impact on women and Indigenous Peoples, who are economically marginalized and more dependent on natural resources like water and forests.*

It is important to emphasize that agro-fuel production does not only cause direct impacts. The macro-effects of agro-fuel production on biodiversity are equally dramatic. Even if the expansion of economically profitable crops like oilpalm, sugar cane and soy takes place on existing agricultural land, it pushes other forms of production like cattle ranching and family farming towards the agricultural frontier. Blaming cattle ranching and small farmers for deforestation and other forms of biodiversity destruction ignores these social and economic dynamics. Agro-fuel production can even have indirect impacts on ecosystems in completely different countries. One example is that the rapidly increased demand for corn as agro-fuel in the USA has caused soy prices to increase steeply, as many former soy farmers in the US switch to corn. This makes it more attractive for soy farmers to expand again, after several years of stagnation due to saturation of the market. The impacts of the stagnation in the soy market were very clearly felt in the Amazon and other regions in Latin America where deforestation rates dropped dramatically the past year (52% in Brazil alone), but already during the first months of this year deforestation rates are climbing again with the rising price of soy.

Also in South East Asia, where the demand for palmoil as agro-fuel is known to have a dramatic impact on tropical forests and peatlands, it is important to take into account these macro-effects. Conversion of tropical forests for palmoil plantations also implies that logging companies move on to areas deeper into the tropical forest. The related infrastructure has a dramatic impact on forest biodiversity too.

In countries like Colombia, oilpalm expansion does not only cause destruction of grasslands and other ecosystems, but it also associated with a broad range of human rights violations. The Permanent Peoples Tribunal of Colombia has recently condemned various palmoil companies responsible for the illegal occupation of community lands to establish oilpalm monocultures and in the process committing more than 113 crimes against humanity. These crimes have all gone unpunished.

The rapidly increasing demand for agro-fuels also has a dramatic impact on set-aside programs in the USA and Europe, as it has become far more attractive for farmers to take their land into production again. While set-aside areas are not always high conservation value areas for biodiversity, they do play an important role as wildlife refuges and biodiversity habitat in general.

Please note that the conclusions and recommendations marked with * are taken from the joint civil society statement "Biofuels, a Disaster in the Making", which has been supported by 97 organizations and 15 individuals from all regions, and the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy. Please see for the full text.
posted on 2007-03-09 15:44 UTC by Simone Lovera, Global Forest Coalition

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme